This past summer, I ended up as the lone adult on a bus full of teenagers headed to Bible Camp. I was sitting in the front seat of the bus turned around so I could “monitor” the activity. Sitting next to me was a girl who was going to be Junior in high school. After a couple of hours, my seatmate asked me a poignant and insightful question:
How in the world do you control a bus full of teenagers all by yourself?
I suppressed a giggle (so as not to offend her) and said:
I have to be smarter than everyone.
Funny. I was trying not to offend her by not laughing, but ended up doing so by calling them dumb (at least that’s what she heard). Now, that comment would have been appropriate for a middle school student asking the same question, and I’m used to answering that age of students on down to babies. However, this was a high school student. So I quickly apologized and reworded my answer:
I have to be about 8 steps ahead of everyone.
This time my response roused her curiosity instead of offending her. I told her that with children I only need to stay about 3-4 steps ahead of them (in anticipating what they might do and already have a response for it), while with teenagers I need about 8 steps because they are smarter and more resourceful than kids are. I told her in a situation like we were in on the bus, my list of what potential things a teen might do is rather limited because they are contained in an steel tube, traveling 65mph down the highway.
This reasoning made sense to her. She then began to observe how I interacted with the students as I moved through the bus from time to time to subtly diffuse any potential flare-ups. She noticed that the way I responded and interacted to things kept certain kinds of behavior at bay. We ended up creating a short list of tips for “Controlling a Bus Full of Teenagers with a Lone Adult”:
- Act like you don’t hear them.
- Speak in a foreign language.
- Smile and nod.
- Make stuff up.
- Pretend like you care.
I broke my rules a little with this high school student in that I let her in on my tricks. Doing so could cause or enable her to “hack” my teenager management strategy. Little did she know that my interaction with her about how I do this stuff was managing her behavior as well.
She stared at me for about 10 seconds and then punched my shoulder when I revealed that to her right before we got off the bus for lunch!